RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. (Arkansas Tech University) -- Fifty-seven years ago, Ernest Green and Charles Allen were two young men on very different but intertwined missions.
Green was one of nine African-American students integrating Little Rock Central High School under an international spotlight. Allen was among 40 members of Arkansas National Guard Company L charged with ensuring their safety inside the school.
On Tuesday night, nearly six decades after their lives intersected at one of the most important moments in United States history, Green and Allen finally met.
They shared a meal inside Williamson Hall Dining Room at Arkansas Tech University before moving across campus for Green's keynote address at Witherspoon Auditorium as part of the 2014 Arkansas Tech Black History Month celebration.
"I've been looking forward to this for some time," said Allen. "I've always felt a kinship with him. It is an honor to have been a very small part of his story and the story of the Little Rock Nine."
Allen, who serves as chief administrative officer for the Arkansas Correctional School system, learned that Green would be lecturing at Arkansas Tech by reading an article in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Allen's wife, Anne, contacted an old friend to make the meeting between former student and former guardsman possible.
Dana Moseley, now the director of gift planning at Arkansas Tech, served on the faculty at Tech with Anne Allen. Moseley helped make the connections, and a long overdue meeting came to fruition.
"My impression of Dr. Green was that he was a determined person," said Allen, remembering his observations of Green as a student at Little Rock Central High School. "He seemed at ease and on a mission. I happened to be in the hall one day when a student knocked some books out of (Green's) hand. Another student helped him, and he didn't seem deterred. He got up, was calm and made his way out. The thing that impressed me was his determination."
Allen recalled the "honor and pride" that he and his fellow members of Company L felt during the 1957-58 school year.
"I was only a private at the time," said Allen. "We were taught to have a respect for humankind. We felt honored to be able to do it. We were federally mobilized, and we conducted ourselves accordingly."
A recipient of the Congressional Gold Medal, Green graduated from Little Rock Central High School and went on to earn a baccalaureate degree in social science and a master's degree in sociology from Michigan State University.
Green joined Lehman Brothers in 1987 and serves as managing director of public finance for the firm's Washington, D.C., office. He previously served as president for consulting firm Ernest Green and Associates and as assistant secretary of labor for employment and training during the administration of President Jimmy Carter.
Green and his fellow members of the Little Rock Nine received the NAACP Spingarn Medal in 1958.
His address at Arkansas Tech on Tuesday night focused on the idea of "agents of change" and how students can serve as those agents in the world around them.
"Inspired people move beyond their circumstances," said Green. "The most effective leaders forever alter the course of your life. I challenge you to awaken the leader within yourself. Seize the opportunity to influence others and you will continue to grow. An agent of change is a single individual with a dream of a better tomorrow."
Green told the assembled crowd that agents of change have common characteristics, including the ability to ask why not, an understanding that change is constant, the knowledge that sometimes it is necessary to go around an obstacle rather than through it and that ordinary people can do extraordinary things.
He cited several experiences that the Little Rock Nine had as they became agents of change, including his graduation day at Little Rock Central High School.
"As I walked across the stage," said Green, "the moral arc bent toward freedom, and nothing would ever be the same again."
Green's keynote lecture at Arkansas Tech was sponsored by the Arkansas Tech Office of Student Services, the Arkansas Tech College of Arts and Humanities and the Arkansas Tech Department of History and Political Science with support from the Arkansas Tech African-American Student Association and Omega Psi Phi, Arkansas Tech chapter.